EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Trailing for the first time in the Gold Cup put a scare into Mexico's fans, not the defending champions.
Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez scored the winner in the 66th minute and Mexico rallied in the second half to beat Guatemala 2-1 in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup on Saturday night.
"Our team is very strong at the core," coach Jose Manuel de la Torre said after his undermanned squad advanced to a semifinal showdown with Honduras on Wednesday night in Houston. "They know they should win versus any adversity. We knew it was a difficult match and a difficult opponent. The early goal was because the field was a little complicated and heavy but we knew that we would come back, and we did."
Guatemala, ranked 124th, didn't make things easy for No. 28 Mexico although El Tri had most of the scoring chances in the second half.
"This time it was different than the other games when we scored first," said Hernandez, the Manchester United star who has six goals in the tournament. "We went in and worked hard in the second half to get chances.
Mexico made one change at the half and it paid immediate dividends when Aldo De Nigris scored 3 minutes later to tie it at 1.
"I think the team kept working and kept trying to look for the goal," defender Rafa Marquez, who played locally for the New York Red Bulls of the MLS. "Fortunately we scored on the two chances we had."
Hernandez got the winner off a great feed from Pablo Barrera.
Barrera made a run down the right side. He sent a shot toward goal that "Chicharito" deflected past Ricardo Jerez.
"The goal was instinct," Hernandez said. "I saw the ball at my feet and put the ball in the net."
Honduras advanced in the first game of the doubleheader at the New Meadowlands Stadium that drew a mostly pro-Mexican sellout crowd of 78,807 with a win over Costa Rica in a game decided on penalty kicks.
Carlos Ruiz scored for Guatemala in the fifth minute and Mexican goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera had to make a fingertip save on his 25-yard shot in the 73rd minute to keep El Tri ahead.
Mexico currently has 17 players on its roster because goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa and defender Francisco Rodriguez, both starters on last year's World Cup team, and three others were removed from the team Thursday after testing positive for clenbuterol, a banned anabolic agent. Ricardo Osorio already had been sent home with an illness.
For most of the first half, it seemed that Guatemala was bent on pulling off a major upset after Ruiz stunned that crowd that spent most of the final minutes of the Honduras-Costa Rica game chanting (Meh-he-co).
Elias Enoc Vasquez started the play with a long pass down the middle of the field.
Mexican defender Hector Moreno whiffed when he attempted to kick the ball after it bounced. Ruiz, the captain of Guatemala, floated the ball over Talavera as the young keeper came out to play the ball.
Guatemala used only one attacker the rest of the half and Mexico only had a couple of scoring chances, with the best being a header by Hernandez that went over the goal.
Mexico, which had outscored its opponents 14-1 in winning its three opening-round games, dominated the second half.
De Nigris replaced Israel Castro and three minutes later the score was tied. Barrera controlled a crossing pass on the right side of the box. He floated a pass to the middle that Moreno headed only to be stopped by a great save by Jerez.
While on turf, Moreno got the rebound and sent a second shot toward goal that De Nigris directed past Jerez, who had an outstanding game.
"We expect the same from Honduras," Marquez said. "They are physically stronger and that makes them more competitive. We need to focus on our own job now."
Guatemala coach Ever Hugo Almeida was proud of his team, saying they had a couple of chances to take a 2-0 lead in the first half and could not convert.
"I think we have to be sincere, we're not at the same level as the national team of Mexico," Almeida said, adding his team is leaving with its heads high.